Kaye LaFond

Science and Conservation Reporter

Kaye covers science, the environment, tribal affairs, and stories that involve crunching a lot of numbers. She lives in Traverse City with her three cats. She enjoys anything outdoors but is partial to swimming in the Great Lakes.

Support for conservation journalism at Interlochen Public Radio comes from The Brookby Foundation. 

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

TRAVERSE CITY — The Michigan Public Service Commission is seeking comment on whether Enbridge Energy needs its approval to re-site a segment of its Line 5 oil pipeline into a bedrock tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.

Jan-Michel Stump/Traverse City Record-Eagle

This story is a Traverse City Record-Eagle data reporting project.

Political tension surrounding Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Stay Home Stay Safe order boiled over during protests in Michigan’s capitol this week.

But a Record-Eagle analysis of anonymized cellphone tracking data indicates politics may have influenced Michiganders’ travel habits for weeks.

Michigan Technological University

Michigan Technological University opened a COVID-19 testing lab on its Houghton campus this week.

Researchers at the school worked for over a month to get it up and running.

The lab can’t take samples from patients, but can help healthcare providers deal with their sample backlogs.

Hospitals in the region were notified Thursday morning that the lab could start accepting samples.

Mark Brush/Michigan Radio

On Wednesday, Enbridge submitted an application for a permit to build the Line 5 tunnel.

The planned bedrock tunnel would encase the replacement for 67-year-old oil pipelines that currently sit on the lakebed beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

Last week, tribal leaders raised the alarm about the state reviewing permits, holding public comment or engaging in tribal consultation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tribal governments in the Straits area are unilaterally opposed to the tunnel.

Groundworks Center for Resilient Communities

A new food relief fund in Northwest Michigan links farmers and food pantries, helping both persist through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local farmers are struggling to sell their produce right now, especially if they used to sell to schools, restaurants or farmers’ markets.

At the same time, demand at food pantries has grown.

Record Eagle/Pete Rodman

Enbridge Energy will not delay submitting permits for its controversial Great Lakes Tunnel Project because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tribal governments that oppose the project want Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to slow the process down. They say it’s impossible to prepare for public comment and official tribal consultations when most tribal staff are sheltering in place.

Jan-Michel Stump/Traverse City Record-Eagle

Over the last couple of weeks, Michigan officials worked to slow the spread of COVID-19, take care of citizens and stay operational. The twelve federally-recognized tribal governments in Michigan faced the same challenge.

U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS

The Soo Locks reopened Wednesday in Sault Ste. Marie, beginning the 2020 shipping season on the Great Lakes.

The Locks have been officially closed since January 15.

According to a press release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District, repairs and maintenance were performed during the 10-week winter shutdown.

People in formal clothing stand on a stage with their hands raised, taking an oath.
Traverse City Record-Eagle file photo

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians will hold its primary election in April entirely via absentee ballot because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The election is for the tribal chair and councilors and was pushed back from April 7 to April 21, according to an announcement on the tribe’s website.

Michigan communities are organizing to help with needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. More than a dozen informal, grassroots networks are operating around the state.

Sometimes known as mutual aid groups, they work alongside government agencies and charities and often coordinate with them. They can help with grocery deliveries, financial assistance, childcare and more.

If you need this kind of help, or if you have time or a skill to offer, browse the map to find a local group to connect with. If you start your own mutual aid effort in your community — let us know. Send an e-mail to kaye.lafond@interlochen.org or digital@michiganradio.org. We'll be keeping track and updating the map.

Courtesy Aaron Payment

Update 03/20/2020: All tribal governments in Michigan have closed their casinos in response to coronavirus.

IPR is compiling a list of coronavirus response actions and closures by tribal governments in Michigan — you can find it here.

Ten of 12 tribal governments in the State of Michigan have closed or will close their casinos in response to coronavirus. 

Royalbroil / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Update 03/17/2020: The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians will close Kewadin Casinos by 03/22.

Update 03/16/2020: Bay Mills Indian Community will close Bay Mills Resort and Casino by 03/20.

IPR is compiling a list of coronavirus response actions and closures by tribal governments in Michigan — you can find it here.


IPR is compiling a list of major coronavirus response actions by tribal governments in Michigan. Staff will update it as often as possible through the pandemic.

The last update was on 03/31/2020 at 2:51 PM. Please refer to tribal government websites and social media pages for the most up-to-date information.

A conference room full of people facing the front, where a powerpoint is being given.
Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

ST. IGNACE — Enbridge Energy and the state of Michigan are moving forward with plans for a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge, a Canadian energy company, chose Great Lakes Tunnel Constructors to complete the project.

Great Lakes Tunnel Constructors was formed through a partnership with Michigan-based Jay Dee Contractors and the Japanese Obayashi Corporation.

Enbridge made the announcement ahead of a meeting with the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority Friday in St. Ignace.

A man in jeans and a lightly-colored coat stands on a front porch dusted with snow.
Mike Krebs / Traverse City Record-Eagle

Realtors and interest groups opposed to regulation are shaping septic system policies in Michigan's state and local politics.

Realtors don't like the idea of inspections tied to home sales. Anti-regulation lawmakers don't like the alternatives.

A fish with low-set eyes peers through a blue, underwater landscape.
KATE GARDINER / FLICKR - HTTP://BIT.LY/1RFRZRK

President Donald Trump's proposed budget won’t fund a barrier to stop Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes despite recent remarks that he would protect the lakes from the invasive fish.

It does, however, include one win for the Great Lakes: another $123 million in 2021 to build a new lock in Sault Ste. Marie ($75 million was already appropriated to start construction on the lock in 2020).

Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

The Upper Peninsula Energy Task force met in St. Ignace today to discuss preliminary findings on Line 5 and the Upper Peninsula’s propane supply.

Public Sector Consultants, the firm hired by the state of Michigan, presented ranges of numbers to the task force.

They say if Line 5 was shut down between Superior, Wisconsin and Sarnia, Ontario, it could impact between 65 and 90 percent of the U.P.’s propane supply. 

If propane also stopped coming to Superior by pipeline, up to 99 percent of the supply could be impacted.

A woman reaches into her microwave to get a mug.
Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

The City of Charlevoix is known for its beaches, lighthouse and fishermen. The Anishinaabe call it “Zhingwak Ziibing” or “Pine River.”

It’s less well known as a superfund site.

Pollution was first discovered in the city’s groundwater in 1981. The city quickly switched to Lake Michigan drinking water, as legal restrictions were put on the groundwater.

Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Dams hurt native fish by blocking their access to rivers — but removing dams to let the fish through would open the way for invasive species.

A first-of-its-kind barrier designed to deal with this problem by sorting fish will be tested on the Boardman River in downtown Traverse City. If it’s successful, it could be a model for rivers all over the world.

What to do with dams

A long, thing metal pipe sits on a concrete floor.
Enbridge Energy

Enbridge Energy has retrieved a 45-foot steel rod it left in the Straits of Mackinac in September. Strong currents moved the rod 150 feet during its time underwater.

The company dropped the rod while sampling bedrock in preparation for building a tunnel under the straits.

The tunnel would replace Enbridge’s 66-year-old oil and gas pipelines that currently sit on the lake bottom.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The spending package signed Friday by President Donald Trump includes $75.3 million to begin construction of a new Soo Lock.

People on kayaks work together to hold up a sign that says "SHUT DOWN LINE 5".
Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

Interlochen Public Radio has obtained emails between a private security contractor working for Enbridge Energy and several law enforcement agencies near the Straits of Mackinac.

The emails show the contractor kept tabs on anti-Line 5 activists (known as water protectors) in the Straits of Mackinac this summer. He shared information about their camp, protests and social media posts with local law enforcement.

A man points at a stove.
Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

Tribal nations, Michigan’s governor and environmental groups are all calling for a shutdown of Line 5: the pipeline that carries oil underneath the Straits of Mackinac.

They say the pipeline, which is 60-plus years old, poses too great a risk of rupturing.

The pipeline doesn’t just carry oil — its liquid mix includes propane that is delivered to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. So, what would happen to U.P. households using propane if Line 5 shut down?


A woman in a red top sits at a round table and fills out a piece of paper.
Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

A new independent commission will re-draw Michigan’s political districts in 2020, and the state wants as many people as possible to apply to be on it.

The commission will consist of 13 randomly chosen voters — four democrats, four republicans and five independents.

It was created by a ballot initiative in 2018 to take redistricting out of the hands of legislators. The U.S. District Court ruled earlier this year that Michigan's political districts are unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

A map of the United States with multicolored dots showing precipitation amounts.
CoCoRaHS / Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network

When driving even a short distance through northern Michigan in the winter, the weather can feel contradictory. Keith Berger, the Observing Programs Leader at the National Weather Service in Gaylord, agrees. 

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